Thank you, thank you to all
of you who do support Bioneers. Every one of you.
We know you and we love you. Thank you. So our last keynote of the morning –
I’m going to intro here. Here’s a startling image to illustrate today’s
unequal income distribution. Suppose that every person in the
economy walks by as if in a parade. Imagine the parade takes
exactly an hour to pass, and the marchers are
arranged in order of income, with the lowest incomes
at the front, and the highest at the back. Also imagine that the heights of the people in the parade are proportional to what they make. What you’d see mostly
is a parade of dwarves with some unbelievable
giants at the very end. In the final fleeting seconds,
you’d need a telescope to see the heads of the financial titans
poking through the clouds. Today, five billionaires have as much
wealth as half the world’s people. If billionaires were a country, they’d be the
third richest nation after the US and China. [AUDIENCE RESPONDS]
Yeah. Wow. Billionaire nation. A handful of multinational monopolies dominate virtually every single sector. What could possibly
go wrong? It’s well documented that excessive inequality and corporate concentration fuel volatility and crises. They undermine productivity
and lower wages. They retard small business
startups and growth, and they freeze
social mobility. All this results in under-investment in infrastructure, education, technology, and environmental protection. This preposterous hyper-inequality
is inherently anti-democratic. It’s make Feudalism
great again, and it’s pushing us
off the planetary cliff. How do we break
this vicious cycle? What kind of system
would work better? And just what is
the economy for? Gar Alperovitz and Ted Howard started
the Democracy Collaborative in 2000, and subsequently the
Next System Project to start creating the structural
economic changes we most need to democratize wealth and
access to capital. They offer practical anecdotes for creating
resilient local living economies, stable families and
communities, and green sustainable practices coded into the business model itself. Over the past 10 years, while an intolerable level of economic pain and planetary peril have passed the boiling point, Gar has played a central role in creating
the quiet revolution of on-the-ground models and experiments in
economic democracy. He’s among the most important practical
visionaries advancing public ownership, community and worker-owned
businesses and cooperatives, and intergenerational community
wealth creation. Gar’s had a distinguished career as a historian, academic author, and political economist. He was the Lionel R. Bauman
professor of political economy at the University of Maryland. He was a founding Fellow at the
Harvard Institute of Politics, a Fellow at the Institute
for Policy Studies, and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution,
among many prestigious positions. He’s written countless influential articles
in the nation’s most prominent publications. His many books include classics
such as America Beyond Capitalism, and most recently the game-
changing organizing handbook, Principles for a
Pluralist Commonwealth. But Gar’s also operated on the
frontlines of real world politics. He ran House and Senate staffs, and did
policy planning in the state department. He’s run hardball political campaigns,
and he’s been on the receiving end of them. He was the cloak-and-dagger liaison
who bravely managed the leak of Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon papers to
The New York Times in 1970. [APPLAUSE] He understands hard-headed political pragmatism
too well to dabble in Utopian follies. If we’re going to end state capture by big business and radically transform our economic system to reclaim our ecological well-being,
collective wealth, and our democracy, Gar will be looked back on as a leader among
dwarves who cut giants down to size. Please join me in
welcoming Gar Alperovitz. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC] Societies, civilizations, in some sense,
are like our bodies. If there’s something systemically wrong,
it’s manifesting all over the place, in all our organs, and that seems to be
what’s going on in our world at the moment. The system is failing
all around us. Our infrastructure is
falling apart, our jails are full and
can’t hold more people, our young people are burdened with a
trillion dollars in student debt. We’re in a heap of trouble. When the temperature of the Earth is
starting to rise, that’s a very bad sign. Our Earth is running a fever, and it’s running
it because it’s sick in many ways. In a country like
the United States, the fact that anywhere from 45 to 50
million people are hungry. This is a problem. We can’t go on like this. We can’t keep moving
toward climate catastrophe, nuclear war, persistence of
inequality, poverty, famine. There is a systems problem. These are not one-off issues. they are interconnected, and we have to
look at the system as a whole. It’s time to talk
about alternatives. It’s time to talk
about what’s next. We need to be aspirational and be clear about
the vision of the world that we want. What is the system
that humanizes us? What is the system that opens up our imagination
of possibilities, of cooperation? Nothing is more important
right now than to discuss: How can we bring
about this change? As systems fail, individual and
community creativity explodes, and that’s what we have seen. People in this country are
solving the problems themselves. They’re coming up with
new models and strategies, and within those models and strategies are the
kernels of a systemic way to move forward. Land trusts, cooperatively
owned businesses, sustainable energy,
state-owned banks, urban gardening,
urban farming, these small successes
taken together are a proof of concept that
this can happen on a larger scale. We’re compelled to search for alternatives,
not just analytically but in how we live and in what we do,
how we organize our daily lives. And that has
tremendous potential. Our actions and our imagination have
to match the magnitude of this problem. We have to get out
of our comfort zone. We must think
with courage. All bets are off in terms
of our previous thinking, our ways of thinking about economy
and our ways of thinking about politics have proven an abject
and utter failure. Good news is we have no choice
but to adopt revolutionary thinking. I like that. That’s the exciting part
about this moment. When there are no rules, then people have freedom
to invent and to create new things. I have no doubt that we
can create a better America. If the people who cared
about these things really join together to
do something about them, anything is possible. The biggest worry for me
is that we don’t try, is that we don’t push
for what we know is right, for what we know is possible. It’s time for everybody who cares about
this country and the future of the planet to do something about it,
to get involved. We can actually do better.
We can build a better system. That’s not impossible. It’s a very American
thing to do, to build a new system. It’s a challenge. We can do it,
collectively, neighborhood by neighborhood, step by step. I think that the world that
we’re on the verge of is a bright and beautiful
and interesting one, complex, local,
interconnected. I hope we get there. [MUSIC] It’s time to talk
about what’s next. Please come and sign our
statement at [APPLAUSE] So these are— Instead of giving you a thousand
examples of what’s going on that moves in the direction of building
the next system, those websites we’ve been
collecting story after story, study after study, so if anybody asks you:
How do you do this stuff? You have an answer, at least a place to
look for answers, because there are thousands
of people working with a vision of how to actually
change the system. So that, by way of introduction. And secondly, by way
of congratulations to Bioneers. It is a spectacular achievement, and you are the representatives
showing that. [APPLAUSE] If there’s one thing
I’d like to do is to take this abstract idea
– the system – and I’m talking to the
person sitting in your chair [LAUGHTER] and bring it down to instead of, Oh, that’s
too complicated, that’s too hard, bring it down to:
What is it I can do tomorrow to change the system? Or more specifically,
I’ll put it carefully, to lay down an irreversible
foundation for transformation. Let me say it again. The task in this period in my view is to
lay down an irreversible foundation, in projects, in organizing,
in politics, etc., which cannot
be reversed, that establishes the basis
for a transformation. That’s not saying tomorrow
I will change the system. My heroes are the
Civil Rights workers in Mississippi in the 1930s. We don’t know many
of their names. They laid the foundation
for the 1960s. That is where
I think we are, and to see ourselves
in that role, I think is empowering, and
we’re seeing a lot going on. Let me start at the other
—one other end. Everybody knows we live in something
called corporate capitalism. Now that means there’s extreme
concentration of wealth ownership. The top 400 people have more wealth
than the bottom half the society – 400 people, more wealth than
the bottom half. It’s 150 million,
160 million people. There’s extraordinary income inequality,
ecological damage. We know all
about this. But the systemic problem is how you
organize an advanced system so that you can reverse
these trends with the institutions moving with
you rather than against you. Now the dominant
institutions… In the Medieval times
it was the church, and the Medieval lords had the land
and they had the power. In the modern
corporate system, the people who’ve got the corporations
have the money and the power, and overwhelmingly
influence politics. The temporary model
that we were brought up with, and I worked in the Senate with Gaylord Nelson,
the founder of Earth Day. In the 1960s, there still was a sort
of countervailing balance to corporate power, particularly
on environmental issues. Surprisingly, since people have different
views of the Labor movement, the Labor movement
was part of that. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day,
was a labor lawyer. He depended on having labor support in
order to do environmental work. Labor unions in
the United States – and this is the systemic
design we lived with – have collapsed from
34% of the labor force. They are now down to
6% of the labor force. There is an overwhelming
attack by the conservatives and by the corporate leaders
to drive it further, and they are becoming
a weak, weak force in politics, which means that Gaylord Nelson,
if he were alive today, probably couldn’t be elected, and he probably couldn’t
do his environmental work. So that’s one way of thinking
about that systemic design, corporate domination of
the main sectors, but countervailed and counterbalanced
by another system. Other systems,
just to oversimplify, the state socialist system kept all of the ownership
in the state, and all of the power
concentrated at the top, and the ecological damage
and many other – damage to human rights, etc. – in that
design was overwhelmingly negative. And I do want you to
think about design. Those are two. So the system problem, not only
how do we get from here to there — about which more
in a minute – what is the nature of the design
that you would actually want to live in? How would—
Who would own things? Where would the
power come from? Would it be an
expansionary system? Corporations have
to expand. They’ve got to keep
reporting more profits, and that has environmental
implications for big corporations. So what is the nature
of the design? This is your problem,
not just mine. This is our problem. What does it look like?
What would it look like in the ideal? And then how do we get
from here to there? And what kind of models
can we experiment with? That’s the nature of this program we call
the Next System Project. At one level, for those of you who are interested,
and we’ve given you the websites, we have a major debate going on amongst
theorists and academics and activists on design of
different systems, part of it, they’re anarchist’s visions,
they’re social democratic, they’re liberal, they’re corporate,
they’re state socialists, there are new inventions
beginning with community. And if you go to that website,
you can follow the different debates. Let me put
it this way: If you’re serious,
you can follow the debates. If you want to change the system,
you might actually figure out, you might actually – I’m a great fan of the women’s movement
of the 1960s — you might actually call
together six friends, get some pizza and something to drink,
read some of this stuff and say, Ah, that might make sense,
and we could start here tomorrow. In other words, get it out of the abstraction
of the academics. There is a lot there that
can be built on and worked on. The other way to start
is with projects. Now everybody not necessarily
begins with projects, but some of them have
implications that are systemic in their design. And I’m going to talk to you about a few
that are on the ground right now because there’s an extraordinary amount of
exploration going on around the country. But systems are about what the institutions
look like and how they’re designed. So here’s one that we’ve worked a lot on
in Cleveland, Ohio. Some of you may know
about the Evergreen Project. Now this is–Some of you do
know about it. This is in a very
poor neighborhood, 40,000 people,
mostly black, average unemployment 20%,
family income average 20,000. Very poor neighborhood. In the middle of that neighborhood
is the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University,
and University hospitals. All three of those institutions –
Medicare, Medicaid, education money – have a lot of taxpayer
dollars in them. They buy a lot of
things just to exist, and they can’t move. They are so-called anchored because they are a huge investment of
capital in those buildings and all that facility. This is a technical term these days –
anchor institutions. So one of the designs
that we’ve developed, and this is one of many – there are a lot of
people experimenting with this – is could we use the purchasing power of
these big institutions, focus it on this community, establish a community-wide
nonprofit corporation to benefit and to reflect
the community as a whole’s interest, and attach to it
worker-owned companies. That is a systemic
design in miniature. [APPLAUSE]
Yeah. What’s interesting about it is it begins
with the principle of community, not corporation, not state socialism,
but local community, and it has attached to it another idea –
worker ownership, which is not community. It’s worker ownership
cooperatives. It moves in that direction but
it has a narrower focus. And then I’m going to
use a dirty word. It also has a
planning system. What do I mean
by that? Public money in these
big institutions focusing downward to help stabilize the
community is a planning system. It’s not simply the market.
It may be checked by the market. The market forces may make
these guys a little more competitive. That’s fine. But it’s
stabilized that way. If you did it nationally— And remember General Motors and Chrysler
collapsed the US government, socialized them, and if you had transformed them into
mass transit and high-speed rail, and then put those contracts into
communities to build that stuff, you would have a larger
version of the Cleveland model. The Cleveland model has a—
there are three major industries there. One is a very high— It’s probably the most ecologically
advanced industrial scale laundry, 300 workers in the Midwest,
maybe in the nation. And then it has a
large greenhouse, produces something like
4,000 heads of lettuce a month. I think that’s the number
that keeps changing. Then there’s an installation,
an electronic installation, and also the most advanced solar
installation company in the Midwest is also one of these worker-owned companies
attached to this community complex. So what you see there – and the reason I want
to emphasize it – it’s been picked up now in Preston, England
by the Labor Party. Who knew? But Preston has now advanced that whole idea,
and it’s become the whole policy of the Labor Party, and is now being picked up
in European countries around the kind of
courageous cities movement. Some of you may know about.
It’s going on in Europe. These many, many cities,
it started in Madrid, trying to say, Our community is the
starting point of how we build a system. [APPLAUSE] Yeah. Hold on to that. Hold on to that because
that’s a different design. It’s not corporations,
and it’s not state socialism, and it’s not small business. It privileges community and institutionalizes it somehow,
in this case a nonprofit corporation. In the case of Preston, the city government,
which is very like a corporation, and it makes that the
centerpiece of the design and then builds out from there.
It says we want to build community. And if you don’t have community, you don’t solve a lot of problems,
including ecological problems. So that’s one principle. And there’s a big debate about that.
That’s what the debate is about: How far to go with that?
And I invite you into that debate, because who else is
going to do this but us? I am talking to the
person in your chair. [LAUGHTER]
So… that is one way of thinking about what you
could do either at the local level or in the example of mass transit
and high-speed rail when General Motors and
Chrysler went down nationally. But I want to give you
another piece of the puzzle. That is something very rarely
talked about in this country, but needs to be
faced directly. This is a continental
scale system. It is literally an empire,
internally. I’m going to ask
you a question. 3,000 miles coast
to coast roughly? 340 million people
building up roughly? Tell me how we have
participatory democracy in that? It’s a system that
is gargantuan, and in the 1930s and the 1920s,
and now a resumption, the question of scale
itself is very important, to the extent that you believe the
system must be highly centralized, you lose participatory
democracy. If you go all the other direction,
you lose the benefits of scale. So it is a real problem,
not a phony problem. I want to focus it more directly
because I have a hunch about this, and we’re studying it. Where might you see the idea of dealing with the
scale problem experimented with
thoughtfully and intelligently? Where might that happen
in the United States? By way of comparison, just let me mention
to you how big we are. You can drop Germany
into Montana. You can drop France
easily into Texas. This is a very big empire,
internally. If you think about where
the fault lines may occur and where the debate
might begin for the longer term re-democratization of America, meaning regional centralization
as part of the puzzle, community, worker,
states, regions, California is an
obvious target. [APPLAUSE] We may learn something
from the last election, but you are so far advanced
in many ways, particularly on
environmental issues, and on high-speed rail, and on
use of the public facilities, that the possibility of
beginning over time – remember my heroes are the people in the ‘30s,
laying down groundwork step by step – for developing a realistic, practical vision of how we decentralize as we move the population from
350 million to 400 million and 450. It is inevitable that we
have to decentralize. This is the most interesting part of the country where we could actually begin that experimentation. [APPLAUSE] I’ll come back next year.
I want to hear what’s happening. [LAUGHTER] So beginning to think about systems not as
abstract things for an academic debate, but how would you actually begin practically
to build on the existing models? So what we’re finding
also is the notion of public, as in who gets to
own and control, how do we see that in
more practical terms? One of the most interesting things that’s
happening around the country, and it’s happening here
in California particularly, is the idea of building
banks that are public banks. [APPLAUSE]
Yeah. We are going to have someone
on the panel this afternoon, we’re going to talk a great deal about the
public bank movement, but it is spreading all over
the country unexpectedly, that we have the notion that
we could set up public banks. And it draws on the Bank of North Dakota.
Some of you probably know about that. North Dakota currently is one of the most
conservative states in the country. It has the most radical
banking system in the country, which derives from people
100 years ago who built it. And they kept it. The conservatives
kept it because it’s so good – the small businessmen, the farmers,
the co-ops, everyone likes the Bank of North Dakota. And it’s become a model
around the country. There are… I think last time I looked, maybe 15 different places where people are trying to set them up. It’s of that order. The governor of New Jersey
ran on state banks. So what’s important about that, some of them are
going to work, some of them are not, some of them will pass, but notice that somebody has figured out
it’s time to talk about institutional shifts, not just policy and
not just activism, but actually looking at one of the
central institutions of the system — the banking system – and saying, Why
could this not be made much more responsive to the public by changing
the ownership and control? And it is happening. [APPLAUSE] Let me say a word
about that. I wear a hat as a historian
on Mondays and Wednesdays. I think people don’t— and I’m talking again to
the person in your chair— I don’t think
people believe – and Kenny opened the door on this big time i
n his opening talk, and he opened it again – I don’t think people actually
look in the mirror and say I could actually participate
in changing the system. That’s a hard confront. Who, me? Who else? But I want to suggest that there are places—
I’ve given you a couple of places where you can do two things: You can start looking at
concrete elements of the system. A system, after all, only is a lot of elements
pasted together in a particular design. This one gives predominance to the large
corporation and to the money behind it, so they overwhelmingly run
the game now in politics. But if you built up a mosaic of alternative
institutions and a movement – environmental, political, cultural,
feminist, non-feminist, etc. – that actually began to understand that the way to make progress on all of these things is going to require us to change the powerful
institutions that we are confronted with, then it becomes
less abstract, less academic, please less academic. Don’t make the system
problem an academic problem, though we need really
good academic research, but see it as something
that is our problem. We could do this if
we wanted to, like those people in the
1930s in Mississippi. So I want to make it— It’s an existential
confront, not an intellectual confront, though there’s a lot of
intellectual work to do, and it’s not—
and it’s a political confront as well. Now what we’re seeing now is the worst ends, and it’s going to get worse certainly before it gets better given this government, but the most important thing about Donald Trump is there’s no labor union backing of the Democrats to organize a power
base against him. That’s what happened. And then he exploited that very
powerfully against a candidate that was not successful
in many areas. We need to build up— Now I’m not
talking now about system design, but it’s related – we not only need to build a vision
of a different kind of system design, and a pathway,
and a personal role, but also on the way up, how do we build political
economic power, not just movement power
but institutional power, like the labor movement did to support Gaylord Nelson so he could do environmental work. What’s interesting about the kinds of things
that are happening around the country – the Cleveland model,
the Evergreen model, etc. – is that they also,
in the building, in the building become
a place where you can build political and
institutional power, even as you’re laying groundwork for a
larger systemic vision. So if you take these
abstractions seriously, and then break them down, as always looking in the
mirror tomorrow morning saying, what’s your next move, you can begin to see pathways
forward in many parts of the country. And I don’t have time
to go into all of them, but we’re going to have
some discussion in our panel by one of the leaders of what’s
going on in Jackson, Mississippi. That’s one place we’re going
to do something. There’s some very interesting transformative
work going on with tires in Los Angeles, just practical experiments to give
you a handle on some of this. So I think my time says
that I’m running out of time, but I want to leave you
with this one message that if you can bring system design
down from the clouds, think about it almost
like a recipe that you want to decide to change or make, or
I can do this too; it’s not too big for me, and then think about
two things: Call a bunch of friends,
maybe half a dozen, get your coffee or your Cokes
or whatever you want to drink, start reading about this
and talking with each other, and then saying what can we do tomorrow
here supporting each other. I’m going to come back in a year
and see how California’s really doing. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]

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